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Fisheries: Licensing

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if he will change the Single Area Licence requirement on Brixham fishermen to enable Brixham boats to be inspected at sea or at their nearest port of call before moving from one fishing area to another. (254977)

The Single Area Licence condition was introduced to the South West beam trawl fleet in November 2008 and was considered necessary in order to safeguard the stocks of sole in the West Channel. This is of particular concern in International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) division Vile* where there is clear evidence of misrecording of area of capture, which has been admitted by industry representatives. The amount of quota available for fishing for sole in Vile* is quite limited compared to other areas and was cut by a further 15 per cent. this year on scientific advice. Catching sole in Vile*, and declaring that it is caught in another sector, will further deplete precious stocks and give false data to the scientists.

The new condition was discussed with fishing industry representatives prior to its introduction, and care was taken to try to ensure that it was workable and would have the desired effect. The condition sets out that beam trawler operators are prohibited from fishing in Vile* and any other ICES division in the same trip. They are also obliged to inform the call centre in advance of leaving port whether they intend to fish in Vile* or in any other ICES division. The scheme has worked well and the industry are complying with the condition. It has been agreed that a formal review will take place after six months of running, and the Marine and Fisheries Agency (MFA) are maintaining close liaison with industry representatives on this measure.

The MFA have limited resources to inspect at sea across the whole of English and Welsh waters using the Royal Navy Fishing Protection Squadron. This resource is used to target vessels which pose the highest risk of non compliance, including visiting community vessels as well as UK vessels. It would be a poor use of resource to task the Navy to inspect very limited areas of operations in order to concentrate on checking vessels at boundaries between fishing areas for compliance with this particular licence condition.

There is nothing in the licence condition that requires Brixham boats to return to Brixham to land their catch prior to setting out to fish in another area. If the master or owner of a vessel wishes to amend the area of fishing, there is a requirement to come into a fishing port before any notification for a change of area can be made, but this does not need to be the home fishing port. If fishing has taken place however, any fish retained onboard must be landed before this notification is made. This element of the measure was introduced so that we can be sure that the fish retained onboard can only be from one ICES area, and hence, the risk of the ability to misreport the area of capture is reduced.

Vile*—the exact area where the restriction applies called ‘relevant area’ is clearly mapped out in the licence condition.